Graffiti throughout city has police questioning gang involvement

(From the Hardin County News )

KOUNTZE - Kountze police say they are concerned over graffiti which is showing up in residential areas in the city. Police are classifying the graffiti sightings, which resemble gang symbols common in larger urban areas, as criminal mischief. However, police say that if the markings are the work of gang members, the actors could face more severe charges, because it would then be considered organized criminal activity.

Kountze Police Officer James Blackwell, who is educated in gang investigation, said the current graffiti problem is not likely to have been committed by an organized gang, because the incidents have been very minor. But, the incidents are being treated seriously, Blackwell said, because of the potential for a gang formation.

He said the persons believed responsible for painting the symbols on roadways and on street, signs are also suspected of breaking out windows in an abandoned home in Kountze. The markings have also been found at the old Kountze High School located on
Blackwell said gangs are known for engaging in serious criminal activity, which has not
been the case in Kountze. Blackwell said although he believes there is more than one
group of actors responsible for the graffiti, there have been no challenges for territory, which is a sign of organized gangs.

The graffiti has been identified as containing symbols from different gang affiliations, Blackwell said, which leads him to believe the actors are most likely kids trying to mimic gang behavior. He said the actors are still breaking the law, and could face serious charges.

Anyone caught on school grounds could be charged with criminal trespassing, in addition
to criminal mischief be cause the area is a well-marked no trespassing zone. He said a group of three or more people caught in the school could be considered as organized criminal activity, and everyone involved could face a class "A" Misdemeanor charge. If convicted, they could face a fine of up to a $4,000 fine and a year in prison. Blackwell said there have been no identified gang members in Kountze, but added that the police
department is working to make sure that gangs do not become a problem in the City.

"A group of kids walking together does not make them a gang," Blackwell explained. "It is when they use their numbers to be stronger as a whole, and then become involved in criminal activity."

Kountze Police Chiefe Dale Williford said the graffiti incidents are under investigation.

He asked anyone with information about possible gang activity to call the police department. He added that community involvment would quickly stop the possible organization of a gang.

He said when children become part of a gang, they show marked changes in their behavior. He said parents should contact the police department if they would like more information about gang behavior.

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